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Helping feed hungry seniors

One recent Monday morning, in the dining room of a plain concrete building off Executive Parkway in Brookhaven, Dveyra Yurovitskaya, 92, eats a breakfast of hot buckwheat and bread slathered with butter as ’40s-era music plays softly in the background. When lunch time rolls around, she’ll enjoy a bowl of vegetable soup, baked chicken and a salad. All of it is courtesy of the Stay Well Adult Health Center.

Widowed in 1979, Yurovitskaya immigrated to Georgia from Lithuania in 1991. She used to be a great cook and housewife, but diabetes and arthritis have rendered her nearly immobile. She has two daughters, but they work during the day and aren’t able to take care of her. Social Security and food stamps are her only source of support.

Yurovitskaya has been coming to Stay Well almost from the moment it opened nine years ago.

“It would be very bad without the center,” she said. “This program saved my life.”

Stay Well provides meals six days a week to Yurovitskaya and 44 other seniors who might otherwise go hungry or subsist on unhealthy, processed foods. Most days Yurovitskaya arrives by bus — also courtesy of Stay Well.

Federally funded nutritional programs are so routine for needy children that we rarely consider the elderly, people like 92-year-old Yurovitskaya, on the other end of the spectrum.

And yet, the need is great among seniors.

In 2013, 5.4 million seniors over age 60, or 9 percent of all seniors in the U.S., were considered food insecure, according to Feeding America, a nationwide network of 200 food banks working to alleviate hunger in the United States. That’s double the number from 2001. And it gets worse. The number of food insecure seniors is projected to increase by 50 percent when the youngest of the Baby Boom generation reaches age 60 in 2025.

For years we’ve been bombarded with news about “food insecurity,” the term coined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It may be a much easier concept for policy makers to swallow, but let’s not get blinded by euphemisms. This is about about hunger. Pure and simple.

The USDA last week launched a nationwide awareness campaign to highlight federally funded nutrition programs like Stay Well, the King David Community Center and Alzheimer’s Services Center. The goal is to inform programs charged with feeding seniors that federal funds are available and to inform seniors in need of food services where to find them.

“While the need for health and nutrition is a foregone conclusion to most as it pertains to children, most people don’t realize that our seniors are struggling with food insecurity as well,” said Falita Flowers, director of nutrition services for Bright from the Start, the state agency responsible for administering Georgia’s adult food program. “The need for healthy and nutritious food as one ages is critical to continued health and well-being.”

Bright from the Start funds some 100 facilities, including senior centers and assisted living facilities, that provide food to the elderly.

Flowers wants to see that number grow.

On average, facilities that participate in the food program receive about $5,000 a month to nutritionally enhance the meals they provide with fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and other dairy products and whole grains.

But not all seniors are aware of the programs and not all programs are aware they can get federal funds to help provide healthy meals. That’s clear from the calls Flowers’ office receives.

While an increase in the call volume is typical around the end of summer, she said, the agency has experienced a 25 percent spike or 150 more calls this year over last, both from families looking for facilities that participate in the program and facilities wanting to participate.

More often than not, said Stan Shrubstock, program director at Stay Well, meals served at food service facilities are the only ones seniors get.

“A lot of them wouldn’t get a meal if they didn’t come here,” he said.

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